Who got that job?

November 2, 2006

Heather Marsden. Lecturer in linguistics, York University. Job advertised in The Times Higher , June 2, 2006

Heather Marsden returns from maternity leave to start a new job as lecturer in second language acquisition at York University.

Before she can move her family to York in January, she has to spend two months completing an Economic and Social Research Council fellowship at Newcastle University.

Dr Marsden said that, so far, York had impressed her a great deal.

"I knew people at York, so they e-mailed me when the job came up," she said.

"I'll be working part time at first for three days a week, which is a bit of an experiment for the department, but it means that I have time to be at home as well."

Marsden studied Japanese for her first degree and then worked as a translator in Hong Kong. She has just completed a study of Chinese, Korean and English speakers who are learning Japanese as a second language.

"I searched quite hard for a specifically obscure problem that was not taught in the classroom," she said. "I wanted to explore unconscious knowledge."

"I decided to study sentences called 'noun-phrases'. An example is the sentence 'Someone strokes every cat'. In English, two interpretations are possible: Either there is one person stroking five cats, or there are five people stroking five cats."

In Japanese, only the first interpretation is possible. Marsden found that when the English speakers had been learning Japanese for a time, they suddenly came to know that only one meaning was possible in Japanese.

"They were never taught this explicitly," she said. "They had learnt it just like a baby would."

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